DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Eighty percent of gunshots are never reported, according to ShotSpotter, the new crime prevention app being adopted by police departments across the country.
ShotSpotter is a new technology that uses strategically placed microphones in designated areas of the city. After a shooting occurs, the microphones send the audio to software that analyzes the noise to determine if it is a gunshot. After it is concluded to be a gunshot, officers are notified within 60 seconds, via the app, about the incident.
ShotSpotter says their technology is capable of detecting up to 90% of outdoor gunshots as well as accurately pinpointing the shots location to within 25 meters.
Dayton city commissioners are voting on Wednesday to approve a $205,000 deal with ShotSpotter. Surrounding cities like Cincinnati and Columbus have already installed the microphones in select parts of their cities.
The software can tell officers the number of shots, how fast the shooter was moving, and in which direction they were headed. The software also records the audio and quickly makes it available for playback.
Before the installation, ShotSpotter professionals would come to the area to assess where exactly the microphones were placed. Hills, trees, freeways, and other elements all play a role in how well the microphones can pick up the acoustics of the surrounding area. For security reasons, police will not reveal the locations of the microphones to the public.
When gunshots are not reported there can be a series of problems for law enforcement. If not reported, incidents will not be investigated and evidence cannot be gathered. In some cases, victims of gunshots may die before medical aid can arrive because of the delayed reporting of the crime or gunshot.
Long term, some fear that communities can begin to not trust in the police department’s ability to investigate crimes in the community after they see a number of crimes go unsolved or others not even being investigated.
In some cases, even citizens that do call in gunshots are often unable to give police an accurate account of the incident. They are often blocks away, did not see the shots or the shooter, and can only provide minimal information.
Columbus police have embraced the technology in recent months.
The ShotSpotter technology was installed in Columbus this past February. Columbus Police Department’s Deputy Chief Richard Bash said that he has already seen a major difference since the launch.
“This is a piece of technology that allows officers to get in the area more quickly and gather more evidence,” said Bash.
“We were very fortunate,” said Bash. “Within the first two weeks, we had a ShotSpotter alert. It was during the day and officers were able to respond in a timely manner. The suspects were already gone, but the officers were able to locate the shell casings.”
Bash said that after locating the bullet shells, officers scanned the area and noticed a security camera on a neighboring garage. After following through with that neighbor, police were able to obtain video footage of the group of individuals involved in the shooting.
“We put that out on media,” said Bash. “We were able to get identification of these individuals and the individual who actually pulled the trigger.”
Bash also said that Columbus Police and the U.S. Attorneys office have agreed to try to take any case resulting from a ShotSpotter arrest would be taken to a federal level.
“Sure enough,” said Bash, “we were able to enhance the charges and take this person federally so he is now going to federal court on this gun charge.”
It is currently not known if the U.S. Attorneys office will enforce this same practice with Dayton ShotSpotter arrests.
“The most important part of this entire puzzle is that the officers who are actually out there doing the work have embraced this technology,” said Bash. “They realize it can help them do their job better and because of that it has been a successful program.”
Police are still urging citizens to report incidents and remain engaged with the safety of their community. One of the major surprises for Columbus Police since ShotSpotter has been installed is the number of calls about shots fired has increased; even as the technology has made detecting them easier for police officers.
“We believe that the percentage is growing higher because people are more engaged,” said Bash. “They realize ShotSpotter is there, but they also understand that their calls help solve these crimes.”
Bash said that the Columbus Police Department would embrace the chance to expand the program to other parts of the city in future years. He also believes that embracing this type of software would be a positive step for cities like Dayton.
“It has been very successful for us here in Columbus,” said Bash. “I know Dayton deals with similar challenges that we deal with. I think your officers are every bit as enthusiastic about having another tool to protect the public.”